Stitch Please Podcast 1st Birthday!

Celebrate the 1st Birthday of the STITCH PLEASE PODCAST

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Mentioned in today’s episode

Daughters Of, film by Shantrelle P. Lewis

Girl Trek, the world’s largest Black women’s health and wellness program

“The Will to Adorn”

 

 

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Stitch Please Podcast

Lisa: (00:15)

Hello Stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black women stitch. The sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So, sit back, relax and get ready to get your stitch together.

Jill: (00:56)

This is probably a bit of a surprise, seeing as how we normally expect Lisa Woolfork's voice to introduce the Stitch Please Podcast. But today is a really special occasion, where the Stitch Please Podcast is turning one. We are celebrating our first birthday and yes, I keep saying we, because I love this podcast so much and this community so much that I claim it in part as mine. My name is Jill Bates-Moore, and I have the distinct honor and pleasure of introducing the podcast today and interviewing Lisa Woolfork for this special anniversary edition.

Lisa: (01:51)

Yay!! That's Lisa, I'm just being really excited. Hello everybody.

Jill: (01:53)

Lisa and I did not discuss before the episode what sort of questions I was going to ask, so this might turn out to be a surprise for both of us, but...

Lisa: (02:11)

We shall enjoy the journey.

Jill: (02:15)

We shall indeed. So first, I think that so many people are familiar with the podcast and so familiar with you, Lisa, because you're so generous about sharing your story and about sharing the resources that you've created both through Black Women Stitch and through this podcast. But, since you're in the hot seat today, I actually would love it if you would just introduce yourself. Who are you, who is Lisa Woolfork?

Lisa: (02:51)

My name is Lisa and my pronouns are she, her. I am the daughter of Ianthia. I am the granddaughter of Edna and Louise. I am the great-great-granddaughter of Ethel. I'm the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Virginia. I am a mother of two wonderful boys and the wife to a wonderful husband. I am also a professor at the University of Virginia focusing on African American literature and culture. I am the oldest of three girls. I'm the oldest of three sisters, who we are still close and in touch, and they're a blessing to my life. And I try to be a good friend, neighbor, community person. I do anti-racist, black-centered organizing. I write, I teach, I try to just live a good full life to be out there, helpful, supportive of myself and other people. I don't know, it's a great question.

Jill: (04:03)

I love how you said all of that and then you ended with, "I don't know."

Lisa: (04:10)

It's still weird, to answer the question, who are we and how do we define ourselves beyond that which we do for other people, like, who are we? You know what I mean? You can't over-identify yourself based on your work, which is the first thing that people say. But is it relational? Is it about the labor that you give? Is it about the service you provide? I don't know how I even answered that question, I just took a stab at it.

Jill: (04:32)

I heard you introducing yourself in sort of the language of legacy, which is really beautiful to me. And I caught that Daughter's Love introduction, particularly on this day. For those who are not familiar, the Daughters Love campaign is a campaign that is powered by GirlTrek. And there is a feature film, premiering today actually. Shantrelle P Lewis directed that film and it is about exploring and claiming black women's health through their matrilineal lines. Clearly, Lisa, you were familiar with that and it means something to you, and so I heard that. If we can stay with this introduction thing for a minute, I'm curious about how the matrilineal lines that you just identified for us... How do those express, in your day-to-day? How does Miss Ianthia show up in you, for you, in the ways that you identified yourself? Is that question clear to you?

Lisa: (06:08)

That question makes great sense to me. It does make me think about legacy and there's this quote, a pretty popular quote that I've seen. Almost like it's become almost a meme. And it says, "Sometimes I open my mouth and my mother comes out." My sisters and I often talk about this, that we have... my mother has certain distinct ways of phrasing things or saying things that just spontaneously might appear. Just because I'm sure this is just embedded in our DNA and in our practices and things that we grew up with as a child that have marked us. But I think it shows up in the things that I say, it shows up in the techniques that I use to mother my children, it shows up in the mirror because I feel like we sometimes have the same face.

Jill: (06:57)

You really do.

Lisa: (07:00)

I don't have to search that far. I was just FaceTiming with her just before this call. And I was like, " Yep. I'm pretty sure my mother, she's holding my face for me so that when I'm 80, I'll have a good idea of what I'm going to look like." But even in addition to that, I think that my mother, even before I developed these vocabularies, things that I learned either in graduate school or in organizing communities, things about an ethics of care. My mother was doing that already. My mother was doing things when we were little, like doing things to help people who were houseless, people who were on the margins. She really does believe still in an ethics of care and service and love and support. Our house was like a big community house.

Jill: (07:49)

Did you have a Kool-Aid house?

Lisa: (07:51)

We absolutely had the Kool-Aid house. I grew up in South Florida and our house had a pool in the backyard in-ground pool like a lot of Florida... It was weird because, I grew up thinking that of course pools were in the ground and it wasn't until I went up North or other places that I was like, "why is your pool on the sidewalk, why is your pool in the yard, on grass and you have to climb up into it?" But a lot of us, we had in-ground pools, that was just common. I don't think that there's a lot of above ground pools in Florida because of the hurricanes and stuff would just tear them up, but we had a pool. My mother would make bologna sandwiches and bring out Kool-Aid on trays and fruit slices. She wanted us to be able to relax and celebrate in our homes. She was not strict, and she was strict in some things, but she also trusted us and helped us to kind of trust ourselves. It was......

Jill: (08:47)

Stay there for a minute.

Lisa: (08:50)

Like trusting us and helping us trust ourselves?

Jill: (08:53)

Yeah. That felt like a word, say more.

Lisa: (08:56)

We had friends whose parents up through high school would be like, "I don't want nobody coming around here. I don't want no this, no that, don't do this, don't do that." And my mother wasn't that way. There were friends that we went to high school with. I was a cheerleader, my middle sister Sybil was a cheerleader and my youngest sister, Stephanie played basketball. So, we did sporty things and social things. But one of the things I remember was some of my other friends, their mothers and their parents were so strict, no boys in the house, no boys on the phone, no this and that. And my mother was like, "yeah, have him come over." And these weren't necessarily like boyfriends, these were just friends who were boys and it wasn't until years later actually, until pretty recently, people would come over and play spades at my house. We didn't have alcohol, we didn't do that, but the way our house was separated or set up that my parents could be upstairs, and we could all be downstairs, and we had the pool and we had a little game room with a pool table. We had the video games and we would just hang out and play and laugh, just be together and have a good time. It wasn't until maybe, I don't know, a year ago and my father passed away, I think it's coming up on 11 or 12 years now. But this wasn't until last year that my friend told me, he was like "we were all terrified of your father. All of us knew...."

Jill: (10:34)

Don't try him.

Lisa: (10:35)

Basically. They worried about us, they loved us, they protected us, but it was really nice to be able to hang out with my sisters and all our friends and we would be playing cards and we would be telling jokes. If my mother went off to Bible study on a Wednesday, we could still have friends to come over and our house never felt like a prison. And I had friends whose houses were kind of run that way. And maybe this was because, looking back on it now, I can see that my mother was very much animated by a sense of love and safety and trust of us. Of course, we made mistakes and we were allowed to make mistakes. We learned hard lessons, just like every other kid learned hard lessons.

Jill: (11:28)

Sure.

Lisa: (11:28)

One of the things that I really remember and things that I continue to replicate. It feels like hospitality. It might sound like hospitality, with her putting beautiful fruit spreads out for my friends or " yeah come on sit down." It feels like hospitality, but I think at the bottom it was about community.

Jill: (11:55)

I'm hearing that.

Lisa: (11:55)

It was about love. You know me. I still do that. That's part of one of the things like when I'm hosting events, whether it's like the event that I did back in 2019 for the Pop-Up Sewing Studio. Let's make sure everybody's fed, let's make sure we get water out. Let's make sure we got...

Jill: (12:16)

You're not coming to Black folks’ houses or any extension of Black folks’ houses and you're not going to eat. I just don't think that culturally that's a thing that would even occur to us. I want to pause for a moment though, on this notion of trust, it sounds like this notion of trust as it relates to building community and I'm really glad that you identified the community building as part of your mother's loving practice. There was definitely a trust that she had for you all as her children and for your dad, trusting him not to go upside some child's head...

Lisa: (13:16)

Exactly.

Jill: (13:18)

And be behind his daughter's. But also, it sounds like there was a level of trust in the community that was built. I remember, just to give that thought, that hopefully, it will turn itself into a question, just to give that some context. I grew up in a much different house. In my household, it was a bit more closed. There were fewer children. There was me, I was the only child in my house until I was in middle school. My baby sister came along when I was 13. So, my mom did not have a whole lot of trust for the folks outside of my house. So, it felt like her expression of love, was really more if I'm physically protective in that way. And it sounds like your mom had a much different approach. And that trust that she was able to extend to you and to your sisters and to your dad, that she was also able to really extend that to the community itself. So, it sounds like you all felt very held and very free. Is that putting too much on it?

Lisa: (14:44)

I don't know if I'd say putting too much on it. I would love to see how my sisters would answer this question. Because I think from a birth order issue, I can see why you call your baby sister, your baby sister, because she was an actual baby when you were a teenager. I think that makes sense now. Because my little sister, we are all very close in age. We were all born within three years of one another. Both of them were born in 73. I was born in 70, 1970.

Jill: (15:11)

Hey!

Lisa: (15:14)

Hey, I look amazing, what the hell.

Jill: (15:15)

Are they okay with you telling this?

Lisa: (15:17)

They know how old they are. What?

Jill: (15:18)

The rest of the world doesn't know.

Lisa: (15:21)

Surprise world! My sisters do math they know how old they are.

Jill: (15:26)

I want to be heard on this platform by your sisters as protecting their business. Don't edit this part.

Lisa: (15:36)

First of all, I'm not a good editor, so I'm not editing out anything. I don't know how to do it and I don't have time for it. This is why people need to donate to the podcast so I can hire somebody to do this. If you're really bothered by it, you can come up off some money, drop some right into PayPal and say, "Okay, that's enough, go buy you some editing help. "

Jill: (16:00)

Hit up that Patreon subscription.

Lisa: (16:02)

You clip into the Patreon, you can make a one-time donation to PayPal. But until that happens, you are all going to get what you all get. And you're going to like it. That's what my friend Jill says, you are going to like it, or you are going to walk away.

Jill: (16:18)

You can love it, or you can ignore it. Those are your options.

Lisa: (16:21)

For me, it felt like she definitely did, but I don't want to make it sound like she was naive or is naive. She was never naive. She was always very protective and aware and vigilant. But even in spite of all of these things, as part of that vigilance, I get the sense she never really wanted us to live small or be small. It's hard to think about it now for me being 50 and looking back at someone who was eight or 10. And what it means to hold somebody like that, what it means to have children entrusted to your care. Do you know what else that's really clear about my mother? She really enjoyed us. She would tell us that and she would say, "you know what? I love you and I like you" She would tell us that and we were like, "of course you'd like us, what's wrong with you? " And she's like well...

Jill: (17:29)

Amazing. Like, have you seen me recently?

Lisa: (17:32)

I know! It's funny because she grew up in a very different world of course. She grew up in a segregated world and a segregated community and a segregated city. She grew up in a housing project and my father did... not in the housing projects, but they lived around the corner. There was a lot of economic privation and so much so that she would tell stories about how, when she was little, there was one particular meal that somehow possum ended up on the dinner table.

Jill: (18:10)

Okay. Where did, where did your mom grow up?

Lisa: (18:14)

South Florida, which is where I also grew up. We're like a third-generation Floridians.

Jill: (18:18)

In the same city though?

Lisa: (18:20)

My grandmother moved to West Palm Beach in the 1930s.

Jill: (18:26)

Okay.

Lisa: (18:27)

And my mother grew up there. We have this long-standing history in the community, which is wonderful because one of the benefits of segregation is that people got to really know each other and look out for each other, care for each other and build institutions or use or refine institutions that were never meant for us, but to be for our good. I have already inherited this practice of community care about building things and building things in love because nobody else is going to do that for us.

Jill: (19:05)

And the idea sounds like seeing mutual aid as a survival technology.

Lisa: (19:14)

Exactly!

Jill: (19:14)

Mutual aid is future building.

Lisa: (19:17)

Yes. Mutual aid is technology and future building. And it was funny when I was talking to my mother because she was like, she's getting older and there's a lot of news about the uprisings and her vocabulary. My vocabulary is different about these things and she's supportive but concerned about property damage or concerned about this or concerned about that. Not like burning down a police station, she doesn't seem to be too bothered about that and I'm unbothered about that entirely. But she was saying "Oh, you know, Lisa, it's those anarchists and they're the one that's out there causing up the anarchist." I'm like "ma, anarchy is just a system of governance, it's not chaos. And I can also tell you that I have learned a lot about some of the principles of anarchy from you." She's like "from me?" And I was like, "ma, when you all..."

Jill: (20:09)

You're about to get put on punishment.

Lisa: (20:13)

No, I'm just saying

Jill: (20:13)

You're calling your mother an anarchist. She's listening very intently to this part of the conversation.

Lisa: (20:19)

She listens to the podcast, which is wonderful. Hey mama. But I was explaining that, when you hold a repast for somebody after someone in their life, one of their loved ones has died.

Jill: (20:36)

You can say it, it's okay. After the fune.

Lisa: (20:38)

After the funeral.

Jill: (20:41)

Lisa, you are Black from South Florida. You know good and well you have never been to a funeral in your life. It's the fune or furneral.

Lisa: (20:49)

We have furnerals. Who did the body? After the funeral, don't let them do me like that. We have had some like, who is that?

Jill: (21:07)

Oh yes. Ma'am yeah. There have been full-scale disagreements like fights before the wake.

Lisa: (21:15)

I mean, so full-scale like, can we get our money back? Whoa, types.

Jill: (21:21)

You will fix this before my family gets here or what is one of my grandmother's favorite sayings, "or it will be hell to tell the captain about it."

Lisa: (21:37)

When my father passed away, people would give us envelopes. Of course, this is all new to us, we never had anyone pass that was so close and immediate. We had some responsibilities. It was a terrible time. But one of the things that I still remember, was people slipping us envelopes and someone saying, like one of my mother's [inaudible 22:01], she's a Zeta Phi beta. And she's been a Zeta since her early twenties. So that's a very long time and they would say, "put these somewhere." And I remember thinking, "what are these for? What is this?" One of my sisters was like, " Are they giving us money, what is it?" And yes, they were giving us money.

Jill: (22:26)

Yeah.

Lisa: (22:26)

My mother had a job with good insurance. That just was so moving to me and it was just an illustration of a community of people coming out in love and they're showing love and support with one of our friends that we grew up with down the street, Lori. She made these delicious smothered Turkey wings. Sometimes love is a smothered Turkey wing.

Jill: (22:55)

Listen, isn't it though?

Lisa: (22:58)

Especially Lori's, those junk were so good, I've been like contacting her later. I'm like," can you tell me more about those wings?"

Jill: (23:08)

But you know what? It really is true, Lisa, the way that, and I want to come back to that conversation with your mom, just because I'm curious. But the ways that we are practiced, I was going to say we instinctively. Instinct is informed by a practice of knowing what to do in that moment. For example, when somebody has passed the envelopes come, the tradition of coming to sit, we'll come and sit for a minute and the chicken.

Lisa: (23:54)

Yes.

Jill: (23:55)

Everybody knows to bring the chicken. We can talk about this offline. We don't, we don't need to talk about me. I am hearing this community practice and I thank you for being so generous with your time and staying here for this part of the conversation. Because I really do think it's so important in how you show up in the world. To me, the through-line is actually very clear, and it makes me wonder, in what ways was your mother practiced in community building and in what ways were her forebears practiced in community building? I would love to go back through all the generations and ask all of these questions. But in any event, finish telling me about your mom's response to hearing this idea that some of the "anarchy practices you picked up from her."

Lisa: (25:15)

I think she was persuaded. I think for me because I'm just learning about anarchy and learning about that as a practice and at moments. I think that the through-line for me with that, is anarchy isn't chaos, that anarchy is care. That it's a form of resistance to systems that centralized capitalism and that you have to somehow have money in order to have good care. And what anarchy teaches is that mutual aid is the basis that we keep each other safe. And that's why we don't need abusive forms of police. That's why we don't need hierarchical governments if we can trust the community to take care of each other, then that's how we can get through. I'm not sure she's going to be going to any type of local anarchy, consciousness-raising zoom sessions or anything like that.

Jill: (26:25)

She's not going to do that. She won't do that.

Lisa: (26:29)

She's not going do that. I have no time to do that either. But one of the things I just love to think about is these things that we might not have language for, that doesn't mean that they aren't meaningful practices that we are doing already.

Jill: (26:48)

Absolutely!

Lisa: (26:51)

I just remember my mother as a general, generous and caring person who gave a lot, who gives a lot, even now. She supports and she does a lot of work at her church, in the homeless ministry. All the things that she does, she's a giver and I'm just really blessed that I was chosen to come to this world through her. Because I feel a strong sense of example in her. And she's really good with me too, like saying "Lisa, you can't do it all." I remember I would call her crying about graduate school and how men kept talking and it was annoying me to death, and they kept talking and they didn't do the readings. And I worked so hard and she was probably thinking, "I don't know what this girl is going on and on about, but Lisa keep your eyes on your own paper and worry about you. Don't worry about what they're doing, it doesn't matter, you do what you need to do." Or like when I was stressed out about the P.T.O for goodness sake. I was a P.T.O president or co-president for a while and I was trying to......

Jill: (28:16)

P.T.O, is that Parents Teachers Organization for your boys?

Lisa: (28:19)

Parent-Teacher Organization for the elementary school. I did that.

Jill: (28:24)

Why am I surprised? Of course, you did.

Lisa: (28:27)

I was coming up for tenure and I was going to school board meetings and I was trying to kind of help the P.T.O to be really strong and all that and I was worried about my legacy as a P.T.O president and what I was going to leave behind.

Jill: (28:47)

I don't mean for my laughter to offend you friend.

Lisa: (28:50)

It doesn't offend me. Laugh because this shit is funny. Who is worried about their legacy as a P.T.O president? Lisa Woolfork is worried about that. Lisa Woolfork does not want to leave the P.T.O in a worse position than she found it, because Lisa Woolfork apparently is the captain of team extra. And she would say "Lisa, you know...

Jill: (29:11)

You know we call you the head deaconess of the "doing too much ministry"? You know we call you that.

Lisa: (29:19)

I have to accept that because that is actually my life. You can work yourself into an early grave over this P.T.O and they'll be like, "this is so sad she's gone and who else is now going to do the work she was doing?" We say in my family...

Jill: (29:38)

They're saying that right now. I wish Lisa was here.

Lisa: (29:42)

Yeah.

Jill: (29:42)

Your boys are full young adults and that P.T.O is like, "man, that Lisa"

Lisa: (29:52)

I'm telling you, girl, I was a mess. We say, " you be working, working, working, and you drop dead at work on Wednesday and on Friday, they're like, they got your job advertised in the paper." But Thursday, they're sad, and on Friday they're like, "okay, well, let's get this new ad up. We got to get a new Lisa in here."

Jill: (30:13)

I do think that, this notion of care and this notion of work. There are ways that we can see them as in conflict with one another. And I suppose they can be when they're out of balance, right? Just like anything that's out of alignment. But I am thinking about one of the conversations that we had recently, and I had with some other friends recently about the technology of blackness. The technological aspects of blackness and Black womanhood, in particular, the way that we are future casting, the way that we see a future, we see ourselves in it and live into that. And in so doing, creates space, it's capacity building. We create space for other people to do and be that as well and doing so when our very lives, our very existence is under threat. It can make it feel like courage, it can make it read like courage or bravery, but it is something so much more important, so much more foundational than that. Does that idea resonate for you?

Lisa: (32:10)

Yeah. Because I guess for me, sometimes it's hard to separate work from labor.

Jill: (32:22)

Tell me what you mean work as in work for other people? Tell me what you mean in contrast to the ideas.

Lisa: (32:29)

For me, I guess maybe I'm just trying to think it through myself because I've not spent a lot of time mulling it over. But when something is work, that seems to be the opposite of ease. It seems to be the opposite; you'd have to kind of struggle and push for it. But maybe that's what labor is. I'm not sure. I think I'm still teasing it out, but sometimes you can be working hard at something, working hard for something, but you don't feel depleted by it.

Jill: (33:08)

I understand what you're saying. So, it's all effort. It is all in expenditure of energy, but the context in which it happens helps to define your experience of it. If I am exerting effort in service of this podcast, which I swear, we're going to talk about, I promise we're going to talk about. If we're exerting effort on behalf of the podcast, which is a passion project, it is an act of service, it's an act of love and care and community, that feels different than the effort that I might expand in doing my paycheck job.

Lisa: (34:05)

Yes! Absolutely. I think that's it, I think that's it exactly.

Jill: (34:13)

Yeah. I think that's something to meditate on. I don't know if that's actually a segue. I'm going to force it to be one.

Lisa: (34:25)

I agree.

Jill: (34:25)

If it's not a segue, I'm just going to start talking about something else now.

Lisa: (34:33)

Perfect. You're listening to the Stitch Please Podcast on the occasion of our first birthday. That's right, The Stitch Please podcast has been around for a year and it's been going really well. I'm really happy with all of the listeners and the people who have come and commented and participated and been interviewed. And thank you very much for doing that. It's just very exciting to me to create a podcast that I did not think anybody, but my family, not all of my family, my kids, for example, refuse to listen, but that my family would listen to. And it turns out that this is working out for more than just my family to listen to. I'm grateful for my family listening and grateful to you listening. I'm grateful to listeners in six continents and 95 countries. Thank you.

We're returning now to the conversation, the interview with Jill Bates-Moore and myself on the occasion of The Stitch Please Podcast's first birthday. Jill Bates-Moore is a fabulous person, attorney and a member of Black Women's Stitch and I'm so grateful to her for this conversation. Here it goes.

Jill: (35:44)

So let's talk at last about... Let me not do that. We have been talking about the podcast, believe it or not. Because the first idea that I wanted to explore is, where did the podcast come from? And I think all of the conversation that we've had thus far, is a part of where the podcast came from. But I'll ask you specifically now, where did this podcast come from? Why was it so important, that in a life that is as full as you have described, that has mothers, siblings, that has nieces and nephews, that has a husband and growing children and rich, robust hobbies and an active friend circle and you're an active member of the change-making communities, in a life that is as full and robust with all of those things, why was it so important to put this in there? Where did this come from?

Lisa: (37:02)

You made me sound really busy and I'm like, “what are you doing?"

Jill: (37:06)

Save it for somebody who doesn't know you, you are that busy. Let's go.

Lisa: (37:14)

I think it came from, I guess, two places. First, I think it sprung from the ground that is Black Women Stitch. And I say that because the idea was kind of popping around in March of 2019, that's when we had the very first beach week. We were talking and brainstorming about ways that we can continue to connect after the event was over. And we started to talk about like, "Since all of us come from different creative backgrounds and have different creative skills. What if we shared these skills in some way and someone could talk about this and someone could talk about that." We were just brainstorming about how we could basically connect and share the resources of our knowledge with each other. And so that was an idea that sounded great to me. I was like "that is really interesting. I would love to keep in touch, et cetera." Little did I know that we would still keep in touch, no matter what, and that we would communicate regularly long after the event and that's just been again, another blessing. That was one of the things, it was about the information that we had and how we can make that available to each other and to other people, so that was one example. But the other thing I wanted to elevate was that there are Black women who have a legacy of sewing, of quilting, of making, of needle arts and that I just wasn't seeing it and that's my own limitation. I know it's because of my background in terms of how I started sewing, although my grandmother sewed, my mother sewed, my great grandmother apparently sewed. I came from all these women. My grandmother, my uncle told me, on my father's side, had a sewing club. They would get together and they would sew. And I think they were able to raise money for their kids' baseball uniforms or something. It was like a sewing club. I was like, "Oh my gosh, I didn't know that my Mimi had a sewing club."

Jill: (39:35)

It runs in the family girl.

Lisa: (39:38)

Apparently, but when it came time for me to get the actual formal education, I didn't pick it up until I was in graduate school. And I went to graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin. It was very white. And when I say very white, that might sound like, "Oh, a majority white." I mean, it was white, white, like 96% white, 4% nonwhite in the entire university of, I think, 40,000 people. And so, some of the students I would teach would tell me things like, "Oh, you're the first Black person I've ever talked to."

Jill: (40:14)

[inaudible 40:14]

Lisa: (40:16)

It was a lot, it really was. The saving grace was I had, amazing mentorship. Dr. Nellie McKay was my mentor and she really got me through and in some ways, I claim myself as a daughters of, in that context as an academic, being able to have her as a model. It was just a lot and so my recreation was sewing and quilting, but when I went to the classes and when I went to retreats and when I went to quilt shops when I went to all those things during that time, I was always the only Black person there and so it gave me a distorted perspective or maybe I didn't realize how distorted it was at the time. I thought that's just how it was, because that's just how it was for me and so it wasn't until...

Jill: (41:13)

Just to pause there for a second, you thought that's how what was? That there just were no Black people in the sewing spaces or that Black people weren't sewing? Tell me what that was.

Lisa: (41:31)

I think that was for me, my experience of learning to sew and quilt in a majority white space meant that I did not see other Black people doing this. Now, of course I knew in my heart that that was false.

Jill: (41:57)

[inaudible 41:57] your life, right? You know that Black people... sorry, I didn't mean to craft the question in a way to imply that you didn't...

Lisa: (42:05)

No. But like I said, I do have this legacy as a fourth-generation Black sewist, except that my context in terms of the formal structures of formal education, the information that I received, the people who were teaching me in sewing and quilting classes, the books that I would buy to learn about sewing and quilting, the magazines that I subscribed to; Quiltmaker, Threads, Quilting News, [inaudible 42:32] news, all of the things that I subscribed to, all the information that I was getting, Sewing with Nancy. Actually, I met her once, it was really great because her show, Sewing with Nancy, was out of Wisconsin Public Radio, a public [inaudible 42:44], which filmed in Madison. It was all very, very white, all of it. When I would go into a sewing store to buy a machine, it was white. It was all white, it was just all white. That's what my context was.

Jill: (43:02)

So the community that your...did you call it your Mimi?

Lisa: (43:07)

Yes, my grandma, that's my Mimi.

Jill:(43:09)

The community that you came to learn about that you're Mimi created, that community which I'm sure had technical instruction and all of that just done in community, right?

Lisa: (43:27)

That's right.

Jill:(43:28)

That was missing from your experience and so what? I know the answer to this question, but so you don't see yourself or your experience or your people in these white spaces and so you do what in response? Or for what purpose? Maybe it wasn't a response.

Lisa: (43:57)

Well, I think it was both. It was in response, but it took a really long time because that had become the norm for me, that I just thought that was the way it was. And so, even when I moved here and I joined a quilt guild, when I joined The American Sewing Guild Chapter and actually helped to start that going a little bit here in Charlottesville. When I did all that, it was always older white women, that was who I saw. I didn't even see white women who were my age. I was always the only Black person and the youngest and it wasn't until actually, as a response to racial trauma that... Not racial trauma, it's not racial trauma, it is racism and white supremacy, that is what I'm talking about. I'm always telling people about vocabulary

Jill:(45:00)

I knew you would fix it.

Lisa:(45:05)

Just a side note that racial is not a negative thing. Everyone has race, racism is a thing we don't want. It was racism and racist trauma and the lingering effects of that, that propelled me to finally build my own thing. And that was in response to my own activism against white supremacists terrorism, being a victim of white supremacists terrorism, with the events of August 2017 here in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the largest white supremacist rally was held, and we had a whole summer of white supremacist activity in the community and it was horrible. And so, I was motivated to go out into the streets, I was motivated to help to write, I was motivated to help do media training, I was motivated to do all of these different activist things because I was just galled by the idea that these people were, A, still around and B, thought they were better than me and C, I didn't want my children to have to deal with this shit. For me, it felt like a legacy battle to help create a brighter future for other Black children moving forward. And the white sewing community that I had been with, were either very silent on this question or they were saying things that were like, "Well, why do you just stay home? Let's just ignore them. I don't see what the big deal is. Everyone should have free speech", it was just a bad time. It was a very bad time.

Jill: (46:47)

It sounds like nobody in...at the risk of sanitizing this because you know me, you know that's not what I'm trying to do. But it sounds like in your efforts as community caregiver or as contributing to community care, the sewing space, the quilting space, the needle arts space, these are nourishing practices for you or you intend them to be nourishing practices for yourself.

Lisa:(47:20)

Yes.

Jill: (47:22)

So, you come from these legit, actual sites of terrorism and you come to your nourishing places only to find that nobody in these nourishing places is capable of answering the question of, "How do we care for the caregiver?" Nobody has anything on it to be able to be equipped, to provide the care that you deservedly rely on your nourishing spaces and your nourishing practices to provide. Is that overstating it, understating it?

Lisa:(48:07)

I don't think it's overstating it. I definitely want to acknowledge that there were a couple of people who reached out, but for a large part, it was people being unsure what to do, and so doing nothing and that silence felt very isolating. Now, there were some people that I have just learned that revealed themselves to just be racist and they were actively toxic and actively harmful to me directly.

Jill:(48:41)

Yeah but we both know that you don't have to be actively harmful or "actively toxic" in order to be anti-black right?

Lisa:(48:51)

That's facts.

Jill:(48:52)

And silence can be anti-blackness.

Lisa:(48:56)

That's right. It really can be. It was hurtful, but it helped ultimately to clear my vision. It really did, and what I realized that in building what I needed, I needed a space, and this is something that I say a lot, is that I would never again sew with anybody who did not believe that Black lives mattered, period. And, that I also deserved and came from a legacy already that I did not have to build; of black women sewing and caring for each other. My mother and her cousin would get together and they would sew in the summertime. My mother and some of her work friends would get together and sew in the summertime. My grandmother and my grandmother's sister sewed and they would sew for other people. They would do alterations, they do really fine handwork. My grandmother could do a handpicked zipper, which I wish I had known about. I didn't even know what that was until it was too late to get her help with how to actually do it.

Lisa: (50:16)

Basically, I had somehow fooled myself into thinking or convinced myself or told myself a story that all of the valuable information about sewing and how we acquire that information is held by white people.

Jill:(50:37)

Yeah. And it happens! It is so insidious, and then you have that moment where you are able to reconnect with your already knowing, right?

Lisa: (50:54)

Yes.

Jill: (50:54)

That you have a technology. Blackness is a technology. Black womanhood is a technology. This question already has an answer that you don't have to go anywhere to get, you just have to call it forth, right?

Lisa:(51:15)

Yes! Call it forth.

Jill: (51:17)

And so then what happened?

Lisa: (51:20)

And then, I called it forth or I continued to practice and call it forth and it answers. I put out a call and people answer. Like with the events, with beach week, with the retreat, with the class, I put out a call and people answer, and I feel like that's happening with the podcast as well. I get these really lovely notes or DMs and emails and stuff saying, "Thank you, thank you for doing this. Thank you for showing us who we are. I didn't know this platform existed and I'm glad that I do". These kinds of things. I feel like, in building what I needed and things that I needed to see, I was able to create this really nice archive, ideally for people to go back and say, "Oh yeah, I had learned about this lady, she's got a podcast and she ended up showing me about this young fashion designer and her experiences at Mississippi state". And, "Oh, she talked a bit to this artist who does work with rug tufting and needle felting". "Oh, and she talked to Nikki from Selling My Style, I've always seen her pictures and now I got to learn more about her because she talked about it on the podcast".

Jill: (52:40)

And Deborah Grayson, who's an amazing [inaudible 52:43].

Lisa:(52:43)

Yes!

Jill: (52:44)

I think that was one of my favorite episodes.

Lisa:(52:47)

Yeah. That was interesting. I got a note about her just the other day. Someone was like, "Thank you for introducing me to Deborah's work. These kinds of things, talk to this lady...

Jill: (52:59)

Sorry to interrupt. It sounds like the podcast is sort of an extension of that calling forth, right? Events are one thing. Beach week is one thing, the Stitch Please retreat is one thing, but those are always going to have capacity limits. Only so many people are going to be able to participate in those things and you have a whole suite of jobs already, we already talked about those. You're not going to be turning yourself into anybody's full-time event planner. Outside of the event context, it sounds like the podcast really addresses this question of, how do we continue to or how do you continue to co-create the thing that you needed with the idea that if you needed it, somebody else needed it too and that affirmation continues to come.

Lisa: (54:12)

Yes! Absolutely!

Jill: (54:12)

Yeah.

Lisa: (54:14)

It's like one of the things in my classes, I'm like, "you know what, if any of you all ever have a question, please don't wait until afterward to ask me. If it's a personal, private question, sure, but if it's something that you are unsure about the material or you don't understand how this thing works, it's a good chance that somebody else has that exact same question. And so, by asking it to the group, you are giving everybody the opportunity to get an answer that'll benefit them. And you're giving a good model of how to ask a question." And so, for me, the podcast has been just that. It has been, being able to talk to the great people that I've talked to or talk about the issues that might seem like tiny minute issues that only affect a niche of people, but you know what, some people really want to know how to get the pattern back in the envelope.

Jill:(55:12)

Yeah

Lisa: (55:14)

That bothers some people. And they're like, "I don't understand this. How does this work? This is ridiculous. "And I'm like, "I was able to do a podcast episode that talked about pressing and that's the secret to getting it back in the envelope" So like these little...

Jill: (55:27)

And it's validating to people's experiences, even down to what you might consider the minutiae, but don't we get to have the minutiae? Don't we get to have the full range of experience?

Lisa: (55:44)

Exactly! And so for me, that's why I try to alternate between like interviews and solo episodes where I just talk about things that are either as sewing related or if something like pops off that I think really needs to have more exposure. That's what I think that the podcast is for. It really is about centering Black women, girls and femmes in sewing. Because for me, as a girl, as a child, yes. I felt centered, my grandmother made clothes for me. My mother made clothes for me, my aunts and cousins. So, I'm used to standing there and trying not to be picked, not to be stuck with a pen as a seven-year-old because I can't stop moving or like, "Oh my gosh, this is taking forever"

Jill: (56:35)

Just standing there sweating, it's hot, you are covered in crinoline or tool or whatever it is.

Lisa: (56:41)

I'm like, "am I going to even like this?" Or going to the fabric store, oh my gosh! This is a very funny story. My mother used to take us to these fabric stores, of course. And it was the most boring experience in all of my life. And I was just like, why lord, why?

Jill: (56:57)

That's amazing that we are in a place in life now where we can actively recall being bored by a fabric store.

Lisa:(57:10)

Putting the shoe on the other foot. When my mother came to visit a while ago, pre-COVID, she came to visit us years ago, we went up to Joanne's and she was like, "when are we leaving?" And I was like, "I'm about to pop you in the head, what are you doing? How are you complaining? You're going to sit here. Just like you made us sit here. You can look at the book, look at the pattern book. How about that?" She's like, "how much more time do we need here? This is so boring". And I was like.....

Jill: (57:40)

Are you done yet?

Lisa: (57:40)

Basically.

Jill: (57:43)

Do you really need all of those patterns?

Lisa:(57:45)

I know right!

Jill: (57:46)

Are you going to look through the whole book? Do you, do you have to look at the book?

Lisa: (57:51)

Do you have to look at all these books, these books are really long. How long is this going to take?

Jill:(57:56)

Oh, shoot. I'm sorry. Okay. But you were telling your story. You and your mom were in the fabric store. You were bored to tears.

Lisa: (58:03)

That was it. Just saying that what goes around comes around me being bored in a fabric store, it means that I get to take my adult mother with me to the fabric store and now it's her turn to be bored. And I'm sure maybe my grandkids will be taking me somewhere and I'll be boring them and they'll be boring me. It's a beautiful circle of life.

Jill:(58:22)

I know it

Lisa:(58:23)

But what I didn't see, and this is why I'm very strategic and deliberate about what it means to center Black women, girls and femmes in sewing. Because I, as an adult, when I started to acquire my knowledge and practice about sewing, it was not from Black women and it was not from other Back folks. And it just made it all feel... And this is actually something that a white ally says, this is Heather Givans, she owns Crimson Tate. And she says, one of the things that she's trying to work on is to convince people that sewing or that quilting is not an all-white sport. That's some of the phrases she uses that quilting is not an all-white sport.

Jill: (59:09)

She needs to convince white people of that?

Lisa: (59:11)

She needs to convince white people of that.

Jill: (59:13)

Yeah. Because I was going to say "Black people know that. Black people are really clear about that."

Lisa:(59:18)

Black people are really clear on that. But I think it's good for her to be talking about it. Because this is what I tend to get white people to do, is to talk to them. Don't talk to me about your efforts to diversify, talk to white people about white people's things, right? Because this is something that system that they've benefited from and created, et cetera.

Jill: (59:37)

Yeah.

Lisa:(59:38)

But that was one of the things that I've been trying to do is to just basically let it be really clear that we have, of course, we've always been here. We have always been here. We have always done it. We have been sewing since there were things to make and be made. We have what one scholar describes in a Smithsonian exhibit called, The Will To Adorn.

Jill: (01:00:05)

Yep. I mean, let be clear to whom? Because we don't have anything to prove to anybody. Do we, I mean, I hear the letting it be clear, as an extension of the calling forth to community. I hear that as, as a welcome, like the first part of the church service where we're the choir's processing in. It's part of the welcome, but I don't want to put words in your mouth. So, let it be clear to whom?

Lisa:(01:00:54)

I felt like for me, I would like it to be clear maybe to myself and let us know what our legacy is or let us know. Let it be clear to us. Now maybe there are, and again I am limited and framed by my context and my experience. Although I came from this as an ancestral practice, I wasn't doing it alongside them. I was a child who was kind of like receiving, I was getting the dresses, I was getting the outfits. I was getting clothes, I was getting the patterns, I was getting these things, but I wasn't making anything. And so for me to acquire my sewing knowledge as an adult, it was not at all clear that Black folks were deeply involved, it just felt invisible to me.

Jill:(01:01:56)

I think that distinction is really significant because I wouldn't want anybody to hear this episode and to walk away from it with an understanding that you started this podcast as a sort of oppositional force to the white sewing community. Because that in its way still centers that community.

Lisa: (01:02:25)

Yeah, true.

Jill: (01:02:26)

But the goal here is, and always was about creating a magnetic and sort of very visible and welcoming and nourishing site for people who are in pretty much the same place that you were, when you were inspired to create it.

Lisa: (01:02:53)

Yes. I think that is absolutely accurate. This is not oppositional. And in some ways, it's like how we think about how systems work. I know for some people they're fine with the system, the way it is, they just want more black people in it. That's not what this is. What I'm more interested in is, how can we create a robust space for such a vast array of sewing knowledges and how can the Stitch Please Podcast practice an ethic of care? That's why knowing and saying the names of ancestors are important. That's why I'm being able to say, "I want to center black women, girls and femmes". And so the people that I talk to on the podcast, the questions that I ask, the people that I cite, the people that I'm in conversation with and are hopefully introducing to a new, larger audience are Black women who are out there doing their own thing too. I think for me, it's about re-calibrating and not just replacing. It's kind of like when people call B Smith the black Martha Stewart, right? Like there was like, there was only one slot and we already had somebody in it. But if you want to put a Black person in it, then we will call her this. And it's like, no, no, she's not the Black Martha Stewart, she is who she is. She is her whole own self. She is her whole own totality and that is sufficient and that is amazing and that is wonderful.

Jill: (01:04:45)

Absolutely

Lisa: (01:04:47)

So that's the thing that I was thinking about. And I think that too often, some folks get trapped into this model of “diversity and inclusion” as a phrase, as a buzz word. And it's not about diversifying a system that's corrupt, it's not about including people into something that's all, that's broken. For me, it's about being more capacious, both internally about how we tell the stories to ourselves and about ourselves, as well as externally, the things that we see in the world around us. And I am working on Stitch Please, as a podcast, that is able to have Black women who are really invested in sewing, who sees sewing as a recreation, who sees sewing as a practical skill, who sees sewing as something that's fun to do, that they can find other Black women who are doing it too all around the world.

Jill: (01:05:48)

Absolutely. And so as we sort of prepare to close the conversation at least for podcast purposes. I would like to know two things. One, is there anything that you feel surprised by in terms of what the podcast has either done, what space it's created, what it has taken to make it happen? Is there anything regarding the podcast that has struck you as a surprise? And the other thing I'd like to know is if there is a further vision. We've talked a bit about the original vision and sort of what brought you here, is there a further vision, as you go into this second year of the podcast, I'm sure there are some technical things, but anything beyond the technical things, vision wise that comes up for you for the podcast?

Lisa: (01:07:10)

That's an excellent question. Thank you for that.

Jill: (01:07:14)

Thanks

Lisa: (01:07:15)

You're very good.

Jill: (01:07:16)

I do try.

Lisa: (01:07:18)

You're doing amazing, you're a great interviewer. First surprise is that people listened to the podcast. That I was a big surprise. This is one of the things about being animated by a passion project is that I didn't really care, I didn't know and I wasn't sure if anybody beyond me would listen to the podcast.

Jill: (01:07:42)

You knew we were going to listen to it. You knew we were going to the podcast.

Lisa: (01:07:45)

I wasn't sure. My own children told me that they weren't going to listen.

Jill: (01:07:50)

That is completely different. The things you put those children through, they're still smarting from their experience of you as the P.T.O chief. I'm surprised if Ryan will bring you a cold drink. So...

Lisa: (01:08:08)

Some days he won't. But yes, that's one thing that people listen and that people around the world listen. I've got a really robust following in New Zealand and Australia. Thank you all. That's a great surprise. But also get into learning about all the things I wanted to know about. So, I'm still able to satisfy my curiosity, that's something that I hope will continue.

Jill: (01:08:43)

So, there's still something in it for you.

Lisa: (01:08:45)

Yes!

Jill: (01:08:45)

That you get to be creatively inspired by and have your Ah-ha moment.

Lisa: (01:08:53)

Absolutely! And I have them all the time. I'm constantly surprised and I still have such joy for it and I'm talking to exciting people and you know, and I love that. So for the future, I just want to hope to continue with that and that's the thing about the surprises, I never know what's coming next. So it's really hard to even map out a further vision because I'm not trying to be the largest sewing podcast in the world. I want to be of service to Black women, girls and femmes who are sewing, who are working in this industry, who are doing this as a hobby, who see sewing as their love language. I want them to be seen and heard and I want the Stitch Please Podcast to do it.

Jill: (01:09:42)

I think that that is a beautiful place to close this interview and to close the episode. Lisa, thank you so much for swapping seats and subjecting yourself to the questions. Thank you for entrusting me to steward your chair and your microphone for this episode. I'm sure that it is not easy to hand off your baby to somebody you like, even as much as you like me. Because I know you love me girl.

Lisa: (01:10:19)

I do but.

Jill: (01:10:21)

But thank you. I really hope that your audience gets to know you in a bit of a different way, through this episode and is able to appreciate the podcast maybe even with a bit of a different lens. Happy birthday Stitch Please the Podcast and congratulations, Lisa.

Lisa: (01:10:42)

Thank you so much. I appreciate you.

Lisa:(01:10:53)

You've been listening to the Stitch Please Podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you supporting us by listening to the podcast. If you'd like to reach out to us with questions, you can contact us at, Blackwomenstitch@gmail.com. If you'd like to support us financially, you can do that by supporting us on Patreon, p-a-t-r-e-o-n, and you can find Black woman stitch there in the Patreon directory. And for as little as $2 a month you can help support the project with things like editing, transcripts and other things to strengthen the podcast. And finally, if financial support is not something you can do right now, you can really, really help the podcast by rating it and reviewing it anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them. So, I know that not all podcast directories or services allow for reviews. But for those who do, for those that have like a star rating, or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us, and the Stitch Please Podcast, that is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. Come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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